On a unanimous vote Thursday night, West Hollywood’s Planning Commission approved renovations that will see an empty historic building on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Doheny Drive adapted into a ground-floor restaurant and second-floor small hotel with six rooms.
Built in 1924, the 5,250 -quare-foot building at 9091 Santa Monica Blvd. once housed a drug store and many other businesses over the years. The building has been vacant for the past 25 years, but developer Taylor Megdal plans to renovate it using Mills Act tax breaks, which the city’s Historic Preservation Commission approved in January.
The commissioners were impressed with the plan, Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro saying,
“I don’t see how we can’t approve the building.”
Commissioner Lynn Hoopingarner loved the plan, saying she had long hoped “someone would rescue this wonderful building.” She compared the triangular-shaped building to New York City’s Flatiron building.
The Historic Preservation Commission earlier had voted down a plan for a rooftop deck. Its concern was not about possible noise from the deck but that access to it would require installation of an elevator and that the elevator tower would physically interrupt the historic billboard structure and be visually intrusive because it would be located so close to the roof edge on Doheny. The Planning Commission, however, approved the deck.
However, to reduce the potential for noise, the commissioners did prohibit food or drinks from being served on the deck, limit the deck’s hours to 8 a.m. to midnight and restricted access to only guests of the hotel and their guests.
Believing the deck could be an ideal place for special events, Carvalheiro suggested allowing two special event permits per year for the roof, something the developer had not even requested.
With the approval of the rooftop deck, commissioners also okay’ed putting in an elevator to the roof. Plans call for that elevator to come up directly behind the billboard that has been on the roof since the 1940s, if not earlier. Because the billboard is considered one of the historic building’s “character defining features,” the Commission’s approval of the project also legalized it as a historic billboard that conforms to city regulations.
New billboards on Santa Monica Boulevard are not allowed under city zoning regulations. All of the existing billboards on Santa Monica Boulevard predate cityhood in 1984 and are considered “legal, non-conforming” billboards that can be maintained but not altered.
Although the city’s zoning code requires the building to have 14 parking spaces, the Commission exempted the building from that requirement, noting that it did not have any parking when it was built.
During the public comment period, resident Steve Martin said restoring the building was important enough that the city should make concessions concerning parking.
Commissioner John Altschul requested that any advertising for the restaurant or hotel should note that on-site parking and valet is not available. In a few years, when the Melrose Triangle retail-office-residential project directly across the street is built, the patrons likely can park there.
In the meantime, restaurant patrons and hotel guests most likely will arrive by taxi or ride services such as Uber and Lyft. The developer hopes to attract a high-end restaurant of the caliber of Gracias Madre on Melrose Avenue. Wanting to avoid traffic problems such as those caused by the arrival and departure of guests at the popular Catch restaurant (northwest corner of Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard), the Commission ordered Megdal to come back with a detailed plan for loading/unloading passengers before a certificate of occupancy is issued.
Of the ten people who spoke during the public comment, period all supported the project. Cynthia Blatt called it a great example of adaptive reuse, while Kimberly Copeland said it would provide a “vibrant entrance” to the city. Meanwhile, Bobbie Edrick, speaking for the adjacent Norma Triangle neighborhood, said the vacant building has been an eyesore for years and urged the commission to “remove blight” from the neighborhood by approving the project.
Victor Omelczenko, speaking for the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA), noted that the city’s 2016 survey of potentially historic commercial buildings did not initially include the 9091 Santa Monica Blvd. building. However, WHPA pushed for its inclusion, and now it was getting historic status, long before many of the other commercial buildings on that survey.
The 9091 building next goes to the City Council for final approval. If approved there, Taylor Megdal hopes to begin renovations in summer 2018 and be open in early 2019.
The trendy Catch seafood restaurant, a magnet for both celebrities and paparazzi, seems to have solved its noise problems. During a required review, city staffers told the Planning Commission there had been no noise ordinance violations against the rooftop restaurant in the past four months.
The city’s code compliance division has received two noise complaints against Catch since its last review in October, but investigation showed the noise was not coming from the restaurant.
Catch general manager Mike Ilich reported that he has an employee walking the adjacent neighborhood three times a night to check for noise impacts. He also has hired West Hollywood city parking enforcement officers to manage traffic on Fridays and Saturdays. Ilich gave out his cell phone number for residents to call him directly with complaints.
Upon its opening in September 2016, residents living nearby had complained repeatedly about noise and traffic problems created by the restaurant on the northwest corner of San Vicente Boulevard and Melrose Avenue. During a review in June 2017, Catch caught heat from the Planning Commission, which ordered it to fix the problems. Another review in October 2017 showed the restaurant had fixed the traffic issues, but still had five noise violations in the three months between reviews.
“I’m proud of my team and their diligence in following the three-times-a-night walks to make sure we can’t hear any audible sound in the neighborhood. We respond immediately to any issues that we have in valet,” Ilich said.
Catch plans to install 12-foot-high glass sound walls around the restaurant perimeter as well as enclose the rooftop entrance area in glass. That installation is scheduled to happen in early April.
Although this was the last scheduled review for the restaurant, the Commission ordered Catch to come back for another review in six months to see how well the sound walls and glass-enclosed entrance are working.
The Commission also gave unanimous thumbs up to plans to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations in new commercial and residential buildings. That proposal next goes to the City Council for consideration,
The commission was scheduled to consider a three-story, five-unit condominium building at 1011 N. Ogden Drive, south of Santa Monica Boulevard, but it was delayed to a future meeting.